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Published in Print: February 15, 2006, as New Web Site Rates Performance of Federal Programs

New Web Site Rates Performance of Federal Programs

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When President Bush released his spending plan for fiscal 2007 last week, his administration simultaneously unveiled a new Internet site that officials say is aimed at making sure taxpayers know how well, or how poorly, federal programs are working.

The site, www.expectmore.gov, reports on more than 800 federal programs, categorizing them as either “Performing” or “Not Performing.” According to the site, which is managed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, 27 of the Department of Education programs OMB has reviewed are performing, and 47 are not.

Programs are rated according to the government’s Program Assessment Rating Tool, or PART, which the Bush administration has been using for several years to gauge effectiveness.

“For every program assessed, visitors can find a rating of the program’s performance, its strengths and weaknesses, and the program’s improvement plan,” wrote Clay Johnson, the OMB deputy director, during an “Ask the White House” online chat on Feb. 9. The Web site gives visitors a clear idea of how programs are doing, he wrote. “It shows where federal programs are succeeding, admits where they fall short, and lays out what all programs are doing to get greater results,” according to Mr. Johnson.

So far, according to expectmore.gov, about 80 percent of federal programs have been assessed, and the final 20 percent are expected to be rated this year.

The PART questionnaire determines whether a program’s purpose is clear and well-designed to achieve its objectives, looks at a program’s long-term goals, rates management of the program, and examines results for accuracy and consistency, the Web site says.

‘A Distorted Tool’

On the Web site, programs that have been grouped as “Performing” have been rated either “effective,” “moderately effective,” or “adequate.” Effective education programs, as determined by PART, include the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the National Center for Education Statistics.

Programs deemed “Not Performing” are then rated either “ineffective” or “results not demonstrated.” Ineffective programs, according to the rating system, include the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and vocational education state grants—both of which President Bush proposes eliminating in his fiscal 2007 budget.

Visitors to the Web site can also point and click to access much more detailed information about a program’s PART rating.

But some government-watchdog groups have concerns that the rating system does not offer a fair assessment.

J. Robert Shull, the director of regulatory policy at OMB Watch, a nonprofit organization in Washington, called the PART assessment a “distorted tool” and said the Web site would make it easy for the public and lawmakers to take those assessments at face value instead of investigating how programs may actually be doing.

The site is “flashy and user-friendly,” Mr. Shull said. “Suddenly, people with an anti-government agenda will be inclined to use OMB’s really political assessments as a basis for some really harsh decisions” about staffing and funding.

“That won’t serve the public interest,” he said.

Vol. 25, Issue 23, Page 26

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